Book: The Happiness Project

One of the main points of this book is that happiness is different for everyone — you should go after your own unique happiness, not anyone else’s. This becomes abundantly obvious within the first chapter of this book, where the author, admitted Type-A Gretchen Rubin, sets herself up with charts, graphs, goals, and a big stack of research, in order to… find happiness?

I get it. I do. One must keep track of these things in order to measure whether one’s efforts are producing the desired result. However, not being much of a Type A, the idea of making this chart, (complete with gold stars!) coming up with 12 months of Happiness Resolutions, and tracking this every single day, makes me exhausted and crabby.

The point of the book (which, of course, sigh, started out as a blog) is that the author was not exactly depressed, but she wondered if she could be a little… happier. And what exactly would *make* her happier? So she set out to see if she couldn’t improve her own happiness. An admirable goal, yes? Putting more happiness into the world is a good thing.

And she succeeds…sort of. Each month she diligently does her research, attempts to keep her monthly resolutions, and tracks her progress. And at the end — is she happier? Well… a little. There aren’t any overwhelming changes — which is consistent with research which shows that one’s happiness has a natural set point — high or low — and it can only swing so far in either direction. So she’s a little bit happier at the end.

My impression, however, is that the other people AROUND her — her husband and kids — are a LOT happier. You see, the thing that bothered me about the book, was that I didn’t like the author. She points out how she snaps at her husband and kids. Is critical. Is a nag. Is argumentative. Is unkind. Is self-absorbed. Her husband cringes when something goes wrong because he knows the explosion of temper that will follow. Her kids expect to be crabbed at when they make a mess accidentally. Her friends point out that she is often unkind and belligerent.

Thankfully, she chooses to work on these traits, and finds that as a result, her home life does indeed become happier. Is SHE happier? Not really, because it takes SO MUCH WORK for her to keep her temper, not nag, be nice, not demand gold stars from everyone. This does not make her happy. But it IS nice, she admits, that her household feels more relaxed and everyone seems to be walking on eggshells just a little bit less.

Um… you think?

So I was annoyed by this. My friend Shea calls books like this “navel-gazing white-lady books.” This is a classic example of this. (Another classic: “Eat Pray Love”) There aren’t really any useful take-aways from this book, other than, honestly, “Being nice to other people makes them happy.” Really? Maybe she learns a little bit about mindfulness and slowing down. She eats a little less junk food. One hopes that she appreciates what she has, a little more.

In another example, she works on clearing the clutter from her house. This makes her incredibly happy (which I can understand). The only problem is… she starts becoming evangelical. She goes over to a new acqaintence’s house and upon walking in, says, “What a great space! If you ever need any help clearing this clutter, let me know! I’m becoming an expert at it.” She was disconcerted by this new friend’s hurt look. Please see above: Unkind. Self-centered.

What did I learn from the book? Well, mostly that I’m doing all the things I should. I try really hard to focus on the things that make me happy: resting. books. kitty. staying in touch with family and friends. thrifting. not worrying. being mindful. Do I sing in the morning and clear my clutter diligently? Sometimes, but not always. Do I try to be kind and considerate to others? Yes, nearly always.

So I’m on the right track. Was the book good? Well, I read the whole thing. It was mildly entertaining. I wanted to see if she would have any big epiphanies. I’m not sure that she did. She seems like… well, an unhappy person, I hate to say it. I hope that her experiment helped her. It seems a worthy goal and hopefully her friends and family benefit from this as well!

Now, I”m off to the library for some distinctly non-white-lady-navel-gazing books. Not sure what, but it will have nothing to do with self-help nor First World Problems like having too much great stuff.

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10 thoughts on “Book: The Happiness Project

  1. Thank you for the review, a book I can happily avoid! lol and yes, I meant that pun :-) I’m so not a type A person. Flow charts etc – ugh. You can’t measure happiness, except as a feeling. It’s subjective. I’m always curious at how people try to quantify it, study it, determine how to get it, because we never seem to have enough happiness. Navel gazing is right. Though at least she realized her unhappiness was spilling over onto everyone else.

    I think happiness comes and goes, there are highs of it, and then periods of time when we have to slow down to find it again. I like to be happy, it’s just so hard to keep in the forefront of my mind, and maybe that’s what the author of this book hasn’t learned, it’s that everyone’s answer for happiness is different. That’s what makes it so fascinating, too! lol

    Kitties are nice and cuddly, aren’t they? and affectionate (especially when saying hi, or food time). I hope your happinesss grows again for you as you find what gives peace and joy.

    • Argh, I had this whole fantastic reply written and then… comments disappearing definitely make me unhappy! The book wasn’t so bad, but I was annoyed at several parts of it, and specifically I’m annoyed at this whole navel-gazing genre. I should resolve, for my own happiness, to not read any more of them. Kitties are super nice and cuddly. My boy Thomas is one of the best!

  2. HA! I love Shea’s description and this woman sounds horrid.

    and i agree with susan. i think happiness comes and goes and you need to fully be in the moment and experiencing the unhappy times so that you can appreciate the happy ones even more.

  3. Spreadsheets and flow charts and goals for happiness? Seriously? To each her own, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could become happier with an approach like that. I think I will definitely pass on this one. She and I would not get along.

    • ….yeah. I mean, I get why she was doing it… but I couldn’t even do it. I couldn’t keep that up. Sometimes I wish I were the type of person that could, but I’m just not. I’m… let’s say, happier! that way.

  4. so i went to my friend visty’s (fourteen thousand days if you want to check her out on my blog roll) house the other night and this book was on her book shelf. i asked her for her opinions and she said that it is a book about happiness written by someone who has never TRULY known unhappiness.

    also on vistys book shelf was Hand Wash COld-care instructions for an ordinary life, which I’m sure you’ve seen around the internet. i snatched it and took it home—I’ll let you know.

      • I’ve heard of Hand Wash Cold! Great suggestion. I just finished reading The Happiness Project and gave it 3 out of 5 stars. I wasn’t as annoyed at Rubin as you might suggest you were but did wonder at her ‘privilege’. I had forgotten that genre ‘navel-gaving white lady books’! I loved Eat, Pray, Love, though.

  5. Pingback: The Happiness Project « Care's Online Book Club

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